Stents for a blocked duodenum

Pancreatic cancer can block the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. This can make you feel and be sick. A tube called a stent can be put into the duodenum to treat the sickness.

What's in the 'Stents for a blocked duodenum' section?


After you eat, the food goes from your stomach into your duodenum, where it gets broken down (digested). If the duodenum is blocked, food can’t pass out of the stomach. It builds up in your stomach and makes you feel and be sick and lose weight. This is called gastric outlet obstruction.

A tube called a stent can be put into the duodenum to hold it open so food can pass through. It should stop you being sick and you should start to feel like eating again.

What are stents and when are they used?

Stents are small tubes. A stent for the duodenum is called a duodenal stent. You may have a duodenal stent put in if your cancer can’t be removed by surgery. If you are having longer term treatment and are well enough, your doctor should consider bypass surgery rather than a stent.

Stents are also used to treat a blocked bile duct – these are called biliary stents.

A diagram of a stent for a blocked duodenum

Advantages and disadvantages of stents

Advantages

  • The stent should open the blocked duodenum and treat your sickness.
  • You should start feeling better quickly, normally within a couple of days of having the stent put in.
  • Treating symptoms may mean you can start or continue treatment for the cancer, such as chemotherapy.

Disadvantages

  • The stent may get blocked and the symptoms you had before may come back.
  • Some people may still feel sick after having a stent put in. If this doesn’t get better speak to your doctor.
  • There is a chance of an infection after having a stent put in. Infections can be treated with antibiotics.
  • There is a small chance of your stent moving after it has been put in. If this happens it may need to be replaced.
  • There is a small risk of complications such as a hole in the duodenum or bleeding.

How is the duodenal stent put in?

You may go into hospital the day before the stent is put in, or on the day. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least eight hours before to make sure that your stomach and duodenum are empty. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diabetes, as this might affect your care before the stent is put in.

You will have a sedative by an injection, which will make you very sleepy and relaxed. A tube with a camera on the end, called an endoscope, is put in through your mouth and down into the duodenum. A fine wire is then used to guide the stent into place inside the duodenum.

The procedure takes 30-40 minutes.

What happens afterwards?

You will be told when you can drink again. This is usually once the sedative has worn off. Once you can drink without problems you will be able to eat. At first you will have softer foods so that the stent doesn’t get blocked. You may need to stay in hospital overnight but this will depend on how quickly you recover.

Will I feel better?

After the stent has been put in you should find that your symptoms begin to improve. For example, you should stop feeling sick and find it easier to eat.

Some people may still feel sick after having a stent put in. This is because food will move through the stent differently to how it moves through the duodenum. This means it may stay in the stomach for longer. Speak to your doctor if this doesn’t get better. They may give you anti-sickness medicines.

You will need to be careful what you eat to make sure the stent doesn’t get blocked. If you need advice or are having problems speak to your nurse or dietitian.

Are there any problems with stents?

Blockages

The main problem with stents is that they can get blocked. This can be caused by the cancer growing through the stent or by food building up inside it. If you have problems swallowing or start feeling sick again, speak to your doctor or nurse. They can check whether the stent has become blocked.

If this happens another stent can be put in to treat the blockage. Your nurse or dietitian should tell you what foods to avoid to make sure the stent doesn’t get blocked – read more about eating and diet.

Infection

There is a small risk of infection. This is usually caused by the stent getting blocked.

Signs of infection include tummy pain, high temperature, aching muscles or shivering. If this happens, phone your nurse or go to A&E if it is out of hours. Antibiotics can treat the infection and the stent can be replaced.

Stent moving out of place

Sometimes stents can move out of place. If this happens the stent is usually removed and a new one put in.

Signs that there may be a problem include tummy pain. The symptoms you had before the stent was put in may also come back. Speak to your doctor or nurse if you get any of these symptoms – they can decide if the stent needs to be replaced.

Discomfort

Occasionally stents cause discomfort in the upper tummy when they are first put in. This is not common and normally gets better over a few days.

Other possible problems

There are some other possible problems from having a stent put in, but these are very rare. For example, there is a risk of the procedure causing a hole in the duodenum during or after the stent is put in. This can cause bleeding, being sick, or an infection.

If you have any side effects after you have left hospital, phone your nurse or doctor, or go to A&E if it is out of working hours.

If you have any questions or worries about having a stent put in, speak to your medical team.

Read our fact sheets about stents

To read more about stents for a blocked duodenum, download our fact sheet, Stents for a blocked duodenum.

Questions about duodenal stents?

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions about having a duodenal stent.

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A specialist nurse taking a phone call.

Updated October 2021

Review date October 2023